Phillies Free Agent Dreams Aren't Cheap

Fresh off their first playoff appearance in 14 years, the Phillies look to get better this off-season. Their best dreams focus on three top free agents who would fill big holes on their roster.

Throwing a bunch of money into player payroll isn't a guaranteed ticket playoffs; just ask the New York Mets. Still, as the Phillies are finding out, if you want to keep up with the gangs from New York, Atlanta and elsewhere, you have to open your wallet wide.

The Phillies knew they had holes at third base and in the starting rotation and with Aaron Rowand's foray into free agency, they now have a hole in center field. The good news is that the Phillies have identified three players who would fill all of those holes, but the price tag might be a little rich for their blood.

Perhaps the easiest signing would be a starter Curt Schilling. The former Phillie has said in the past that he would like to finish his career in Philadelphia and recently listed the Phillies as one of the teams that he's interested in signing with over the winter. He's also said that he's only looking for a one-year deal, so the financial hit wouldn't be too tough for the Phillies to handle. Adding Schilling to the rotation would be a big step for a team with questions on their staff. Schilling, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer and young Kyle Kendrick would be a formidable top four starters as the Phillies look to defend their NL East title. If Adam Eaton can rebound, the rotation would be filled. Otherwise, there are young starters like Carlos Carrasco and J.A. Happ who appear close to being major league ready and might be able to win a spot in the rotation next spring. Resigning Kyle Lohse is another option or, moving Brett Myers out of the closer's role and back into the rotation could give the Phillies one of the best rotation around, but it would be at the expense of a bullpen that also needs to be remade.

Free agent relievers include Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero. Resigning J.C. Romero would prevent another hole from opening in their bullpen.

Mike Lowell would fill a gaping hole in the Phillies lineup at third base. Like Schilling, Lowell has said that Philadelphia might be a nice place to call home. Actually, it would be a bit of a homecoming, since his father attended St. Joe's University there back in 1968 and brought his family there on vacation in 1980. It was that trip to Philadelphia that made Lowell a Phillies fan after he got a Mike Schmidt card at a local fast food restaurant. Also like Schilling, Lowell has said that staying in Boston would be his first choice.

The possibility of signing Lowell might depend on how many years he's going to be looking for on his next contract. The Phillies could be looking for more of a stopgap solution at third base with young Mike Costanzo ready to push for a big league spot in the near future. Costanzo is the heir apparent at third base, but needs a season at Triple-A to prepare himself for the majors. Lowell's signing would be for more than a year or two and the Phillies would effectively block him with a long-term signing.

If Lowell isn't affordable, a deal for Colorado's Garrett Atkins or Joe Crede of the White Sox might be a possiblity and would provide them with a cheaper alternative, but at the cost of a prized prospect or two.

"Our priority really is pitching," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said after organizational meetings adjourned. "There's some thought that third base is a priority, but it's evident that pitching, starting and/or relief pitching, is where our mind-set is now. We view third base as secondary."

The toughest signing would be Aaron Rowand. The Phillies didn't make much of an effort to sign Rowand during the season and let him hit the free agent ranks without much of an argument. Rowand has a number of teams lining up to sign him as they decide on which of the big name center fielders - Rowand, Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones - are the best fit for their club. With Eric Byrnes recently getting a big contract, Rowand is thought to be looking for six years and $84 million in free agency. The Phillies don't figure to be shopping in that neighborhood and may choose to simply move Shane Victorino to center and see how a platoon of Jayson Werth and young Michael Bourn might work in right field.

As for the money, the Phillies will have about $20 million in extra funds from contracts that they are dumping from their roster. They also have Pat Burrell's $14 million deal that ends after this season, which will give them some extra money down the road. On the other side of the ledger though, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels will be looking for bigger and bigger paydays as they continue to impress. The Phillies have had some quiet discussions with Howard about a long-term deal and Hamels won't be far behind.

Ownership has said that the payroll will expand for next season, but even with the money they're saving from expired contracts and the expanded payroll options, affording Rowand, Lowell and Schilling is a long shot.

"As always, it comes to a point where there are going to be some situations that make you feel uncomfortable as far as dollars and length of contracts," Amaro said. "At the end of the day, we might have to be uncomfortable."

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